“If you smoke it, if you heat it, it produces a chemical call hydrogen cyanide. It’s very toxic to humans,” says Dr. Donald Land, a researcher at Steep Hill Lab in Berkeley.
He's referring to the fungicide Myclobutanil. And it could very well be in the cannabis you're smoking.
“We see cannabis that comes through the lab that would have to be destroyed in other states,” explains Tony Daniel, one of the Steep Hill Lab members that have been analyzing California’s marijuana since the 1990s.
“You cannot tell by looking at your cannabis if it’s contaminated with pesticides, residual solvents, molds,” says Dr. Land.
As more states have moved towards more legal markets for cannabis, they have developed more stringent methods for quality control.
Oregon, Washington, Massachusetts, Colorado, and Nevada have either set limits on or banned certain pesticides for use on marijuana. In Colorado, one such pesticide has received a lot of attention.
Myclobutanil. It’s a fungicide, often sold under the name Eagle 20.
It is approved for use on things like grapes and hops because if humans happen to eat some of it, it is considered harmless.
“If you smoke it, if you heat it,” Land explains, “it produces a chemical call hydrogen cyanide. It’s very toxic to humans.”
That’s exactly why the federal government prohibits the use of Myclobutanil on tobacco, but California currently has no such pesticide rules when it comes to medical marijuana.
In a statement to KPIX 5, Dow AgroSciences — the manufacturer of Eagle 20 — said the fungicide has not been approved for and should not be used on marijuana.
“Dow AgroSciences, without exception, will not seek regulatory approvals or support the use of its products on marijuana,” the statement read. “Eagle 20 is not approved for use nor should it be used under any circumstances on marijuana.”
Daniel believes the state also needs to put in some kind of regulations.
“People have an expectation that the stuff they get from a dispensary is going to be safe and clean and well tested,” he said.”But the fact is, this is an unregulated environment up till now.”
So how much Myclobutanil might you find on California’s medical marijuana? A reporter purchased samples from five different Bay Area dispensaries, and since not everyone gets their marijuana from a dispensary we also arranged for the acquisition of some marijuana sold on the streets of San Francisco. All of it was sent to the lab.
“Only one of those six had no detectable pesticides,” says Land.
There was just one clean dispensary sample, while three more had enough pesticide traces to make them “test failures” in Massachusetts or Nevada.
As for the black market sample, it failed on nine different pesticide tests. That, however, wasn’t the low point in this marijuana challenge.
The last dispensary sample, a product sold as medicine, was far and away the most contaminated, riven almost entirely by Myclobutanil levels more than thirteen times the amount allowed under Oregon law.
Now the clock is ticking for California to come up with it’s own safety standards; what pesticides will be allowed, at what levels, and how will it all be tested safe for consumption?
When Daniel sees California’s marijuana landscape, he sees a terrain where “there hasn’t been the level of rigor applied to the industry that’s coming down the pike.”
As of now, most of California’s marijuana is being grown no-questions-asked, and the result is plenty of products you would rather not smoke.
As Land sees it, “unfortunately, without any regulations requiring testing it’s up to the purveyor whether they want to or not, and it’s basically caveat emptor, right? Let the buyer beware.